Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Songs Named After Books: How Faithful Are They? Part One: "Uncle Tom's Cabin"

When we were reading Huckleberry Finn in high school, we read a number of essays alongside it, including one which was all about how Uncle Tom's Cabin sucks compared to Huck Finn. The pedagogical value of this is unclear, given that we didn't read the former, or even excerpts therefrom. Still, I think I just took the essay at face value because it's just fun to hate on things, I guess. Nowadays, though, I must take exception to it. First, it's not even a tiny bit fair to compare them without noting that they were written on opposite sides of the Civil War (um, before and after, that is), with completely different motives. Also, while all the criticisms of Uncle Tom's Cabin you hear are accurate--it's awash in unconscious racism, it gets pretty darned mawkish, it flagrantly misuses archaic grammar in the dialogue of Quaker characters (seriously, Stowe writes things like "Thee knows thee can stay here, as long as thee pleases"--didn't she have editors?)--given that it was massively successful in turning public opinion against slavery and thus did literally the greatest tangible real-world good of any novel ever--maybe perhaps it deserves a tiny bit of credit? What have you done today that's so great? Also, I must maintain, in spite of everything, that it has genuine literary merit. The section on the Legree estate is as compelling a portrait of Hell as any.

Anyway, the Warrant song is about a guy. He has an uncle. The Uncle is named Tom. Uncle Tom has a cabin. The boys of Warrant had definitely heard the phrase "Uncle Tom's Cabin" somewhere, but whether they know what the book's about, or even that it is a book, is impossible to say.

(I'm just funnin'--it's a fun song, in its preposterous eighties-hair-metal way--but it sure has zero to do with the novel.)


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